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Judge Orders Plane Carrying Deported Asylum Seekers to Return and Threatens Sessions with Contempt
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10 Aug 2018 03:24 PM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Jeff Sessions (Image source: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Jeff Sessions may have thought the law was on his side when he announced that fears of gangs and domestic violence would no longer be acceptable reasons to have asylum granted in the United States. A federal judge disagreed, ordering a plane carrying a mother and daughter back to El Salvador to turn around and bring them back to the States while also threatening to hold Sessions, as well as other officials, in contempt of court.

 

After the attorney general made the announcement of the change in what would be allowed when seeking asylum, it was seen as impacting mostly Central American women, with tens of thousands ending up at the border citing their fears of domestic violence and gangs. 

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a case against Sessions and other officials on behalf of twelve women and children. They had been on a fast track to deportation. The lawsuit makes the argument that Sessions' policy change went against American and international laws of gender-based persecution as grounds for asylum.

 

Sessions has stated that he believes the former definition of asylum qualification was too broad. The ACLU retorted that the broad qualification in the initial phase was low purposefully to give vulnerable, traumatized asylum seekers a shot at making their cases for why they deserved asylum in the U.S. 

"It's depriving people of a meaningful opportunity to have their claims heard," said Jennifer Chang Newell, an attorney for the ACLU. "Congress deliberately made the standard a low one. Congress wouldn't want women and children to be sent back to danger erroneously."

 

Four of the plaintiffs in the case had already been deported, according to Newell. A Salvadoran woman, known as Carmen, and her daughter were at risk of being deported as soon as this week.  

The ACLU asked the judge to pause the deportation process and order the government to keep the plaintiffs in the U.S. while the lawsuit was being fought in court. Justice Department lawyers assured Judge Emmet G. Sullivan that none of them would be deported before midnight on Thursday.

But in the middle of the hearing when Sullivan was considering the request to freeze deportations temporarily, lawyers for the ACLU and the DOJ received word that Carmen and her daughter had been woken up the night before and were taken from a Dilley, Texas, government facility where they've been since June and sent back to El Salvador on a plane.

 

The ACLU has explained that for two decades Carmen's husband regularly raped, stalked, and threatened to kill her. She never reported him to the police, as she has seen other women do so and then be killed by their husbands. She left him only to have gang members targeting her and her daughter. 

Carmen and her daughter did not clear a credible fear interview by an asylum officer when they arrived at the border in June. An immigration judge agreed with the officer's decision in July.

 

The government had no explanation for why the mother and daughter were sent back in the middle of the night while their court case was being heard.  

Sullivan slammed the government for deporting them just as they were finally getting somewhere with their court case. He ordered the government to undo the deportation and bring them back.

 

The Department of Homeland Security said they wouldn't get off the plane in El Salvador and would be brought back to the U.S. Newell reported that she'd been told they would return by Friday morning. 

Additionally, Sullivan threatened to hold Sessions and other government officials in contempt, assumably for the order that secretly put the pair on the plane back to their homeland.

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